Sunday, November 25, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid - Deuteronomy 31:7-8 - November 25, 2012


The rug in front of me on the platform is six feet by eight feet.  It is about the same size as the small patch of grass that brought a wave of fear to my heart like nothing I had ever known before.  I had spent months and months getting ready for this moment, but when I faced it I was terrified.  Coming out of my catastrophic illness I had been forced to rebuild the muscles in my legs and essentially learn to walk all over again.  I had moved from a wheelchair and a walk to traditional crutches, and now to forearm crutches.  I was only one step away from walking on my own again.  For months I had been walking on concrete, on the hard tile floors of the hospital physical therapy room, and on the very flat, very secure carpet in my home and in hospital hallways.  Now I found myself standing at a small patch of grass terrified.  I was a decade ago and even in the moment I could not help but think about the countless hours I had spend on football and baseball fields of grass running at full sprint.  I could not help but think of the countless Saturdays I had spent as a child running from place to place in our neighborhood getting ready for my next adventure.  But now I stood and starred at this small patch of grass feeling my heart race.  Beth was there with me. So was the physical therapist.  Surely they would not let something terrible happen to me.  But when I looked down at the grass I realized that I could not depend on it.  I did not know what kind of surface I would find beneath the grass.  What if the grass hid a small hole I could not see through its deep green covering?  What if my foot slipped on the grass?  What if the grass gave way?  I could imagine a hundred little scenarios where I could fall flat and hurt myself.  I stood there almost paralyzed by fear, seized by the uncertainty of what awaited me. I felt my pounding heart and heard the prodding voice of my physical therapist behind me.  “It’s OK, I know it’s a little scary, but you’ll be OK.  Step out.  We have to do this.  It’s the next step in the process.”  With a blend of hope and terror I reached out to the grass with one of my crutches and followed with my first leg. I know that it was only a step but in my heart if felt as big as that first step on the moon.  I wondered what would happen.  I wondered if I would be OK.  I knew that there were people all around me, but I had to make this step on my own.  I stepped out, then another step, and then another. I realized that all I had to do was to take one step at a time and trust – trust those that led me there – trust myself – trust the work God had been doing in my body and my life.

As pastor of this church there have been other moments when the step into uncertainty chilled my heart.  They day we launched the fundraising campaign for Renew First I wondered how you would feel.  I wondered if you would respond. I wondered what would happen if we did not raise enough money.  I wondered what would happen if we did.  We took the step into the uncertainty together.  God would lead.

There have been moments when I something would happen in the midst of ministry or in a worship service that would make me pause to wonder where we were going as a congregation.  I found myself getting a little uncomfortable, or even more than a little uncomfortable, and I would wonder if I was leading us on the right path or toward a cliff where we would fall off.  Then we would take a step into the uncertainty together. God would lead.

I am typically a person who is willing to go boldly into the future with God, but there are moments.  So when I came to our passage for the morning I realized that this message was as much, if not more, for me as for anyone else that might hear it today. So I invite you to come with me and heard a word from God for us. Our passage begins; Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.

Moses called the people together.  They stood at the edge of the land that God had promised to them.  The future that God had for them was within their grasp.  The people came to hear what Moses had to say.  The first words he offers are for Joshua.  Moses would not be going with them.  Joshua would lead them.  Joshua and the people faced this moment with fear and trembling. While the forty years wandering in the desert had been hard, they were sure of Moses leadership and sure of God’s presence with them.  The Promised Land was an uncertain future.  They could not be sure of what awaited them.  Things would be different.  Both Joshua and the people faced the moment with fear.

The feelings of the people gathered together are not unique. Fear is insidious. Fear seems to find a way to sink into our lives every time we face a time of uncertainty. There are so many people who live lives of fear or that are paralyzed by fear.  This fear cheats them and cheats us for living the life that God intends. 

Moses called the people together and challenged Joshua and the people by extension.  Be strong and courageous. Take the people into the land.  Do all that God has commanded; to seize this moment with God; to embrace the task and the future that God had for them. He called him to go into the uncertainty. But he also told Joshua and the people that they would not go alone.  Moses tells them;  The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  These are words we need to let echo in our heart and soul.  We do not need to fear.  We will not be consumed or destroyed by the uncertainty before us.  God is with us – the God of all of creation – the God of salvation goes in front us and then walks beside us into the place, the moment, the door, the challenge, and the opportunities that beckon us.

Moses tells Joshua and the people that they not have to be afraid or discouraged because God is with them and will never forsake them.  These words are worthy for those in our church family to hear and embrace.  I recognize that there are moments when it is especially clear that our tomorrows are very different than our yesterdays.  There are moments when God is at work in us and through us and we wonder what will happen.  For example, when we received the word about the 7.7 million dollar grant for Good Shepherd some immediately began to wonder what would happen after the grant ran out.  After a long season of talking about become a vibrant place of ministry and community for our community and our community responded, some began to wonder if what it would mean for us in our way of worship and our way of ministry.  After all of the renovations and the facility updates – and the need for additional repairs and renovations and the accumulation of some church debt, some began to wonder how we would keep up.  When God provided resources for us to sale or monies through an estate gift, some wondered how we would make it the next year.  But we have seen God at work.  He has gone before us and has been with us. God has not left us or forsaken us.  God has moved among us again and again.  God has continued to do the impossible to the point where it almost seems normal.  An example is that this week we received an unmarked envelope in the mail.  There was no note and no address inside. All that was inside was $900 in cash given as an anonymous gift. It is a small but significant symbol that God is providing for us.  We do not have to fear the future. We do not have to be afraid or discouraged.  God is at work ahead us and walks beside us each step of the way.

The same story is at play in our lives. We sometimes face uncertainty in the form of a new job, a new city, a new school, or a new season of life.  When we come to places of uncertainty and we can find ourselves in fear.  It is important to hear that we can trust God to be at work for us.  I am not saying it will all work out the way we want it to.  I am saying that whatever awaits us we face it with God.  2 Timothy 1: 7 tells us; For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  Fear is not from God. It can distract us from where God is calling us to go.  It can unsettle us from following God’s will. God calls us to love and strength born in a faith that can sustain us no matter what we face.

In her devotional, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young offers a different, but very powerful picture. She envisions Jesus saying; “As you look at the day before you, you see a twisted, complicated path, with branches going off in all directions. You wonder how you can possibly find your way through that maze. Then you remember that the One who is with you always, holding your right hand.  You recall My promise to guide you with My counsel and begin to relax. As you look again at the path ahead, you notice a peaceful fog has settled over it, obscuring your view.  You can see only a few steps in front of you, so you turn your attention more full to me…..The fog is a protection for you, calling you back into the present moment.  Although I inhabit all of space and time, you can communicate with me only here and now.”  p. 335.

We do not have to be defined by fear or anxiety.  God is with us and goes with us. The fog that hides the long pathway is not a curse but a blessing. We only have to see the next step.. Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.  We do not face our lives and our future alone. Fear not!  God is with us and will not forsake us. Let’s go boldly into our future with God. We can trust him.   Amen! 

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